'Mr. Brooks': Murder in 12 Steps

If you've seen the trailer for the Kevin-Costner-is-a-killer movie "Mr. Brooks," you might fear that the entire plot has been given away. The good news: there are many twists, turns, subplots and surprises that the coming attractions don't even hint at. The bad news: these twists and turns are so preposterous, or so irrelevant, that they undermine the movie they're meant to tart up.

The title character, played by Costner, is a pillar of the Portland, Ore., community, a happily married husband and father who has an unfortunate addiction to murder. He even goes to AA meetings to deal with his problem, though he's understandably reticent about sharing. His only confidant is—himself: Mr. Brooks has a devilish alter ego who goads him on in his life of crime, and this evil id-dude is played, very cannily, by William Hurt. As the bickering sides of Mr. Brooks's twisted psyche, Costner and Hurt have a delicious chemistry, but it doesn't bode well for a movie when the only two compelling characters are the same person, talking to himself.

Their testy, complicitous bond is far more interesting than Mr. Brooks's relationship with his wife (Marg Helgenberger), his troubled daughter (Danielle Panabaker), who has abruptly dropped out of college, the driven cop (Demi Moore) who is hot on his trail or the amateur photographer (Dane Cook) who happened to catch on film Mr. Brooks's latest killing—a couple in the act of making love. It's not giving too much away to reveal that this creepy fellow is no conventional blackmailer; instead of money, he wants the chance to accompany Mr. Brooks on his next killing.

This sicko is barely credible (an actor more experienced than Cook might have helped), but Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon's script has far more rank improbabilities ahead, the most egregious involving Mr. Brooks's lovely daughter. As if there weren't enough to hold our interest, they give us an escaped convict pursuing Moore for sending him up the river. (These scenes seem to have been borrowed from another movie entirely.) Did I mention that Moore's cop character is also a millionaire? Don't ask.

For its first half, "Mr. Brooks," directed by Evans, is pretty engaging trash. Costner is usually most fun when he's subverting his nice-guy persona ("No Way Out"), and here he gets to play both a paragon and a villain. The basic premise has real potential: think what Claude Chabrol could do with it. But Evans and Gideon aren't seriously interested in the psychology of their characters. They're so worried about holding our attention they overload their tale with bombshells, byways and bogus suspense. The movie becomes a crazy quilt of competing stories, none of them properly developed. You could cut half the major characters out of "Mr. Brooks" and never miss them.

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